David Akers (Photo Credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Kickers. One week they’re beloved. The next people are creating Twitter handles specifically devoted to their futility (sorry, Billy Cundiff). But as fickle as a kicker’s success may be, they’re a necessary evil in both reality and fantasy. And as far as a draft strategy goes, you’d be well advised to mimic fantasy baseball’s “don’t pay for saves” approach, and hold off on kickers as long as you can. The reason is that outside of a few special legs, it’s not so much the skill level of the kicker that matters as the team his leg is connected to.
Here the top 10 kickers to target toward the end of your fantasy draft or in free agency:
1. Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots
Stephen Gostkowski (Photo Credit: Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Gostkowski scored at least five (real) points in every game last season. With the Patriots offense as strong as it is — 30+ points in 13 of their 16 regular season games — Gostkowski will see plenty of scoring opportunities in 2012.
2. Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers
Crosby had 140 points in 2011, the third most among kickers. That included 68 PATs because, you know, the Packers score a lot of touchdowns. Look for Crosby’s production to continue this year.
3. David Akers, San Francisco 49ers
David Akers was the undisputed No. 1 fantasy kicker in ’11, booting most of his field goals (16, to be exact) between 20 and 30 yards out. But his success was largely the byproduct of QB Alex Smith’s poor red-zone execution. The 49ers offense was dead last in red-zone efficiency (RZE) in 2011, reaching paydirt just 22 times in 54 attempts (40.7 %). This makes Akers again one of the top kickers to target, regardless of format.
Sebastian Janikowski (Photo Credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
4. Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland Raiders
Not many kickers get drafted in the first round. And while it seemed funny at the time, 12 years later the joke is on us. Janikowski has been keeping the perennially so-so Raiders in games for years with that cannon he calls a leg. Last season he tied the NFL record for longest field goal (63 yards) and broke the team record for field goals in a game (6).
5. Garrett Hartley, New Orleans Saints
Hartley was injured for much of the 2011 season, and finds himself fighting for a job this preseason. Assuming his hip has healed and he wins the kicking duel, Hartley should put up serious points for the high-octane Saints offense. Owners should temper expectations a little, considering that head coach Sean Payton is suspended for the season.
6. Matt Prater, Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning will be running a Broncos offense that was shackled by Tim Tebow’s inaccuracy in 2011. Prater played a part in a few Tebow miracles last season, but you don’t receive any extra points in fantasy for re-affirming Broncos’ fans’ belief in God with a few game-winners. In general, the attempts simply weren’t there. However, Prater already flashed glimpses of his potential in 2009 (30-35 FG), and being a part of a Manning-led offense should help his production.
7. Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis Colts
Vinatieri’s age (39) may be a slight deterrent, but his accuracy remains unquestioned — he was 23-27 last year, and 2-3 from 50+. The Colts offense, however, was anemic. Exit Manning, who was injured for all of 2011 anyway, and enter No. 1 pick Andrew Luck, who is already heralded as one of the most “pro-ready” QBs ever drafted. The Colts offense has a chance to be reborn, although not overly effective in Luck’s rookie year. And that spells opportunity opportunity for Vinatieri.
Dan Bailey (Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
8. Dan Bailey, Dallas Cowboys
Bailey had a solid rookie season, as the Cowboys somehow managed to be both high scoring and inefficient — a kicker’s perfect storm. Look for them to be more or less the same productive team as last year. And look for Bailey to be a reasonable fantasy kicker option.
9. Alex Henery, Philadelphia Eagles
Vick’s injury last season benefited Henery (and his fantasy owners). This season will bring more extra points than field goals if Vick can stay healthy for 16 games. But that’s a mighty big “if.” When was the last time Vick played a complete season?
10. Shawn Suisham, Pittsburgh Steelers
That’s right, Shawn Suisham. Your read that correctly. He’s never been the most reliable of kickers. But Pittsburgh’s questionable running attack and Big Ben’s partially torn rotator cuff could work to his benefit. More stalled drives means more field goal opportunities. Suisham just has to convert.